Choosing NBA's best as basketball trade winds stir
Among professional sports leagues, the National Basketball Association has been dynasty-proofed for 11 seasons, a fact the defending champion Boston Celtics hope to change when the playoffs begin later this month. Meanwhile rumors seem almost as frequent in the NBA this season as loose ball fouls.
Surfacing again recently, after going underground for several months, is speculation that sometime this summer the Los Angeles Lakers will trade Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the New York Knicks. And that Kareem will accept the switch because New York is his hometown.
As payment for Abdul-Jabbar the Knicks will then send center Bill Cartwright and a player to be named later to the Houston Rockets, who will then step aside while the Lakers give a long-term contract to free-agent Moses Malone.
Even more improbable, since Cleveland would first have to win a coin flip with San Diego for the No. 1 pick in this year's college draft, is that LA (which is owed that choice by the Cavaliers) would draft Virginia's Ralph Sampson. That is assuming Sampson, a junior, even declares for the draft. The Lakers would then trade Sampson to the New Jersey Nets for power forward Buck Williams.
There is more, only you'd never believe it. But don't completely disregard stories that the Kansas City Kings and the Utah Jazz may merge into one franchise by next season for financial reasons.
Meanwhile the player considered most likely to be rookie of the year in the NBA when the 1981-82 season started, forward Mark Aguirre of Dallas, may finish no higher than fourth in the balloting.
Almost certain to be named ahead of Aguirre, who missed 31 games with injuries, are forward Kelly Tripucka of Detroit; forward Jay Vincent of Dallas; and Buck Williams of New Jersey.
Detroit, which had two first-round draft picks, selected guard Isiah Thomas ahead of Tripucka. Kelly, however, has been a big contributor to the Pistons and currently ranks 13th among NBA scoring leaders. Coach Scotty Robertson calls him a blue-collar player.
''At first I found that label hard to deal with because blue-collar doesn't sound that great,'' Tripucka explained. ''But I guess it was meant to describe someone who works hard, who earns his money instead of just taking it. I know I felt a lot better about it when John Havlicek told me he was often described the same way.''
Still to be named, of course, are the NBA's first and second all-league teams , plus its most valuable player.
I didn't have any trouble at all picking my first five: center Moses Malone of Houston; forwards Julius Erving of Philadelphia and Larry Bird of Boston; and guards Gus Williams of Seattle and George Gervin of San Antonio.
Choosing the second unit was considerably tougher. For example, I have mixed emotions these days about Abdul-Jabbar, who still has games when nobody can stop him offensively. But like a lot of other writers, I have come to feel that this is only what Kareem, with his super talent, should be doing all the time. Still, after considering what Jack Sikma has given to Seattle and Robert Parish to Boston, I decided that Abdul-Jabbar deserved to be picked ahead of them.
My second-team forwards are Marques Johnson of Milwaukee and Alex English of Denver. The New York presss would have bronzed English like baby shoes long ago if he had played for the Knicks.
Because there are so many solid guards this season, I had difficulty choosing among Dennis Johnson of Phoenix; Sidney Moncrief of Milwaukee; World B. Free of Golden State; and Norman Nixon of Los Angeles. Eventually I settled on Johnson and Moncrief.
Malone is my choice as the league's MVP.
If anyone in the NBA this season did a better coaching job than Larry Brown of the New Jersey Nets, I didn't see it. After two years away in the college ranks at UCLA, Brown showed that he hadn't lost his flair for teaching fundamentals to professionals; getting the best from matchups; and not being afraid to try different things when his team got behind.
As for the upcoming NBA playoffs, the six teams (based on won-lost record during the regular season) with a chance to win it all are Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
But realistically, assuming that no team catches lightning in a bottle like Houston did last year, you can go with only three - Boston, Philadelphia, and Seattle.